Now that I'm back in the comforts of home, I feel in some ways less proactive and less capable than I did at Beijing—when I felt like my time was being more efficiently used. I guess that's what happens when you know your time is limited (by the nearing date of an airplane ticket) and you're constantly encountering novel situations, and committing new names, alternative traveling routes, and tid-bits of helpful information to memory.
The ~6 months I spent in Beijing have been far more rewarding than I could have imagined (4 at ACC, 2 doing independent research). Before leaving for Beijing I had some reservations. Studying Chinese in Beijing was a plan that I made in the spring of Sophomore year, but by Junior fall, I had other things on my mind. Even after being admitted to the ACC program, I was still unsure. One of my suitemates who also made similar plans to study abroad in France and was accepted into a program, eventually decided against it. Despite my reservations, I decided to take the plunge. The Light Fellowship really does make studying an East Asian language too tempting of an opportunity to pass up.
One of my mom's recent mottos is you never know what you're capable of unless you're tested. Difficult circumstances have the ability to pull out your hidden potential. My mom, now nearing her 50s, says she has constantly been amazed by what she has been able to overcome—and she often laughs when she thinks about how her friends from college would react.
My time at ACC has given me more confidence in my Chinese abilities, which was so invaluable for preparing me for my last two months (May and June). My goal (after revisiting some of my earlier posts) for this time spent in China was to improve my Chinese to a level where I “wouldn't be exposed”. I'm not quite sure if I've reached this goal because I've realized that different people with differen't backgrounds react to me in a range of ways. Now I've come to accept that no matter how proper my tones are and how big my vocab is, my American mannerisms also makes me stand out and keeps me from completely “blending in”--but what is “blending in anyways”?. As someone who not only looks Chinese, but is actually Chinese (by heritage and nationality), it's pretty strange when I have to explain to someone that I'm currently in China studying Chinese. Some people are surprised by my revelation and reassure me that they would have never guessed that I didn't grow up in China; others kind of realize that I'm slightly different because of my strange word choices. One example occurred during my research period when I was getting feedback on my surveys from a Statistics student at 民大 who found it strange that I kept on saying “In China, blah blah blah”. I realized after he pointed it out, that my way of speaking was the equivalent of saying “In the US, Americans elect their government officials” vs. saying “We elect government officials.” While it makes sense for someone who is distinctively foreign, it didn't make much sense for me who kept on saying “In China, Chinese people blah blah blah.”
Ethan also pointed out that one of the reasons people find my speech strange is that I sometimes insert random 东北话 (northeastern dialect) slang into my otherwise very standard 普通话（mandarin). I always thought that I spoke very standard mandarin, and never consciously thought that I had any tendency for东北话 until one of our teachers pointed it out to me. And the funny part is, my 东北 slang started to rub off on other students at ACC. The teachers could even tell apart the ACC students who spent a lot of time with me by the appearance of 东北slang! At least this was an indication that we kept the language pledge. (Postscript insert of apology for this entry not having any particular order or theme).
Before arriving in Beijing, I expect a very large concrete metropolitan, with a few very crowded touristy must go's interspersed in between. I anticipated pollution, I anticipated traffic, I anticipated myself to have a valuable opportunity to learn Chinese, to see my Chines relatives for Chinese New Year, and eat lots of delicious 油条 and 豆浆. What I didn't anticipate was how beautiful Beijing could be in the winter, how many good friends I would make, and how even in the last month before I left, I would find an amazing group of badminton lovers on the Beijinger. I didn't expect that I would learn Chinese history (and realize how big of a knowledge gap I have), visit so many beautiful sections of the Great Wall, and I didn't expect how my time and my familiarity with other people's point of view would come to shape my own.
In my last two months, I stayed in Beijing to do research for my senior thesis project. I interviewed professors, participate in conferences at universities, and wrote and then conducted a survey of Chinese university students. I got to experience what living on my own post graduation might be like. I experienced what it's like finding my place a city without many friends or allies, and then building something from nothing. Even renting an apartment in Beijing is different, I imgaine, from other cities. Because housing prices are so high, wealth disparity is so great, there is literally a huge spectrum of housing available for rental. I chose the higher quality end of student housing (which wasn't that great coming out of ACC dorms), which mean that my new room included a wooden bed (no mattress) and rickety furniture that broke if you moved it. Other options on the cheaper side of the spectrum included basement level air-raid shelters and haphazardly put up shacks (If I had the time, I could really write a whole entry just on housing in Beijing, and then a completely separate one on my experience with finding housing in Beijing).
All in all, I am so thankful for the time I've had this semester the capital city. Thank you Light Fellowship for having made everything possible!